You may recall that not too many years ago a majority on the State Board of Education brought ridicule upon themselves and the state of Texas by writing curriculum standards for Texas students that downplayed slavery as the cause of the Civil War.
Slavery is cited throughout the Texas secession declaration, adopted in 1861, and the document makes clear that slavery was the reason Texas left the Union to join the other southern states preparing for war over the same issue.
The board majority, however, chose to play politics with history and with education, and now Gov. Greg Abbott, in his own way, is doing the same thing. The governor doesn’t write curriculum standards, but he has been presented with an opportunity to make a strong political statement for historical accuracy and scholarship and so far has refused to do so.
Last year, a legislator called Abbott’s attention to the fact that a plaque on public display in the state Capitol also denied that slavery was a major cause of the Civil War. The plaque, sponsored by Confederate descendants and apologists, was erected in 1959, years after the South had lost the war. It was erected, instead, during the early years of the civil rights movement, perhaps as a pushback against the descendants of slaves who were still fighting for the political and civil justices they had long been denied by the descendants of secessionists.
The legislator, state Rep. Eric Johnson of Dallas, an African American Democrat, brought his concerns to Abbott in a private meeting last October, nine months ago, and asked that the State Preservation Board, which the governor chairs, remove the plaque. Johnson has since been joined by 40 other legislators, including some members of the governor’s own party, but the plaque remains.
Among the state leadership, only House Speaker Joe Straus has called for its removal. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick hasn’t weighed in. And Abbott’s office said the plaque’s future will have to be determined by the Legislature because the Legislature authorized its placement in the Capitol in the first place. That may be so, but that doesn’t prohibit the governor from exercising leadership and demanding that lawmakers remove the plaque after they convene in January.
Instead, Abbott remains silent. What is he afraid of?
Does he disagree with historians and educators? Is he content to perpetuate a lie for Capitol visitors to see? Is he afraid of offending Confederate descendants? Or is he afraid of racists who want to undo the civil rights gains of the past 60 years? Racists, after all, do vote, they have been emboldened by President Trump and this is an election year.
The State Board of Education is taking another look at the history curriculum standards this year, giving it another chance to be honest with school children. The governor, meanwhile, has a chance to publicly refute a lie and show school children and their parents some political courage.